In Colorado, Latinos experience a different pandemic reality
Health departments across the state customize communication for non-English speakers in effort to minimizes some of the COVID-19 disparities
From the onset of the pandemic, it became obvious fairly quickly that COVID-19 was not affecting all communities equally.
Centers for Disease Control data shows Latinos in particular dying at a rate three times higher than their white counterparts are experiencing. Vanessa Bernal said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recognized these inequities and approached communicating with non-English speakers more intentionally.
“As we know the pandemic exploits all of society’s vulnerabilities and makes health disparities particularly pronounced. Because social and economic inequities are so deeply embedded into our system, they require several solutions to create positive outcomes for people of color,” Bernal, Bilingual Media Specialist for the Prevention Services Divison at CDPHE said. “Because of that, the department of health has been taking several steps to reach Latinos or Spanish-speaking Coloradans.”
Bernal’s role did not exist before she started in September 2018, and it shifted in March 2020 to focus entirely on the state’s COVID-19 response and Spanish resources. Because of how communities of color historically have been treated in the United States, Brisa Chavez, the Hispanic Engagement Coordinator for Garfield County Public Health, said their department’s strategy has relied on maximizing trust.
“(Distrust) is one of the biggest barriers we have. So, making sure the Spanish-speaking community knows that if they have any questions they have somebody in their own native tongue that can speak to them,” Chavez said.
Public Health officials saw the need to share information about COVID-19 not just through their outlets, but by partnering with community leaders and other Hispanic residents to make the facts more personable and relatable. Kari Ladrow, public health director in Moffat County, said partnerships like these are a large part of how her county’s department ensures the Latino community is accessing reliable information to help them navigate the pandemic.
“One of our critical partners is Integrated Communities/Comunidad Integrada, a nonprofit whose mission is to build respectful relationships between immigrant and local neighbors and to break down linguistic and systemic barriers that prevent constituents from accessing services and resources,” Ladrow writes in an email. “We also developed relationships with trusted faith leaders within the community in order to provide a collaboration and united effort towards combating COVID-19.”
Bernal said the state’s translators continue to carry a massive workload and worked on 400 COVID-19 related documents from April to September of 2020. Another part of CDPHE’s efforts to reach Latinos is through social media and by partnering with influencers who can provide a first-person perspective to the campaign #VaccineFactsCO.
“The department of public health wanted to increase the number of trusted messengers that would be delivering information about COVID-19. … We are currently in the process of expanding this program to more Coloradans around the state sharing their own story, why it’s important for them to get vaccinated,” Bernal said.
Garfield County is also implementing a similar approach, Chavez said, by making sure there are bilingual staff on the COVID-19 hotline and bicultural employees as well to improve communication with Spanish-speakers and empower them to get the facts and their questions answered in their native language.
“One of the main questions that is asked of me is ‘what kind of vaccine did you receive?’… Once you share your story, let them know that you’re good and still here, it’s really a sigh of relief,” Chavez said.
Ladrow writes that a silver lining to the pandemic would be the awareness her department now has about communicating with non-English speakers. Moffat County offers radio commercials in Spanish and Ladrow writes will continue trying to close the disparities of health information access for their residents.
Using Facebook, Facebook Messenger, social media and radio have proven to be the most efficient ways to connect with the Latino community, Chavez said. She has noticed it takes someone who they know, a trusted neighbor or family member, to explain their rationale behind the vaccine and the symptoms they had with it before they feel comfortable getting it themselves. Information about COVID-19 is essential, and Bernal said the work CDPHE and other health departments across Colorado have done is not going unnoticed.
“They really appreciate all these efforts of all these methods of communication they get in their own language. That’s my perception of how they get it. That they are appreciative. … This is what they need now, they need information, updated information,” Bernal said.
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